The Following article originally appeared on the March 3, 2008, in Grand Junction’s Free Press, under the title, “Terror from another perspective.”
Israel trip offers lessons on countering terror
by Linn and Ari Armstrong
This was not your typical tourist trip; it was called the Ultimate Counter Terrorism Mission. Your elder author joined over twenty other Americans February 3-10 to travel to Israel. The group consisted of law enforcement and trainers, producers of anti-terrorism equipment, and those with a deep interest in counter terrorism. This column, written from Linn’s perspective, is the first of several about the trip.
To set the stage we need to go back fifteen years in Grand Junction. I had been training civilians for several years in the NRA basic pistol and personnel protection courses. These are excellent classes and serve the community very well. Not only had thousands of individuals benefited from the training but dozens of instructors came from this pool of people. From this pool of instructors several Training Counselors arose who are able to train instructors.
With so many well-trained people in the area, several began to express the desire for more advanced training. In conducting a lot of research and interviewing a number of instructors with impressive qualifications, one name kept popping up: Alon Stivi. Stivi has since conducted various training exercises in and around the Grand Valley.
Stivi is a leading expert on security, violence prevention, counter-terrorism, and travel safety. He has served as an advisor to federal, state, and local government agencies, including the U.S. military and law enforcement. He is the U.S. Master Instructor of the Hisardut Israeli Survival System. Stivi also contributes to the magazine Counter Terrorism.
It was in this magazine that I saw an advertisement for the Counter Terrorism Mission to Israel. Thus began my quest to learn many of the facets of counter terrorism that Israel has to engage in for its own survival.
Although I have done a fair amount of travel over the years I had never had the opportunity to travel Israeli airlines El Al. This presented an opportunity to see first hand the different philosophy between the U.S. and Israel on terrorism.
Most of us are familiar with the process of checking aboard an airplane. I would like to relate an incident that took place in Denver last year. I carry a first-aid kit in my carry-on bag and have carried the same kit for years around the world. This means that it has been subject to dozens and dozens of security checks.
Before my flight out of Denver my bag was pulled and I was asked to open it. Sure enough, my deadly scissors were discovered. They were slightly over two inches long with rounded tips. The lady at the machine did not have the authority to decide on the deadliness of these instruments of destruction. She had to call her supervisor to help with what was approaching a national security issue. The supervisor had to make this life-or-death decision.
The decision was that the scissors were too dangerous. I was asked if I would like to mail this cheap pair of scissors back home at a cost of seven or eight dollars. I responded, “Let’s just throw them away.” But I couldn’t just throw them away; you have to sign a form to throw them away.
I always carry a rather large, stout, pointy ball-point pen with me when I travel. I took this pen from my pocket with a flourish to sign the form and said, “We can’t allow these deadly scissors on board.” The security agent threw me an unpleasant glare.
El Al’s process is different. The first thing that they do is profile people who are going to board the plane. This profile is based on how you answer a number of questions. The Israelis are trained to note both the physical reactions you exhibit and the accuracy of your answers. You are probably profiled several times. You then take your check-in luggage to a big machine that x-rays and sniffs for bombs. If something suspicious is spotted in your bags, you are asked to open the bag. Assuming the bag checks out, you then pick up your ticket, turn in your checked luggage, and proceed through security. Perhaps the U.S. could pick up a few pointers on this process.
Israel’s approach to security is built on the onion model, layer after layer. I was reminded of meeting a young couple a few years ago that had immigrated to the U.S. from Israel a few months before. I found the husband to be very interesting; he was a mathematical genius (as well as a world-champion juggler). Now he works in Silicone Valley as a mathematician. Anyway, I asked his wife about the biggest change she had noticed when coming to the U.S. She replied, “going to a shopping mall and not having my bags and purse searched when I entered.”
Fortunately, for us terrorism is usually a long way away. Will we keep it that way?